The Devil in Silver



  • The devil in silver [electronic resource] : a novel / Victor LaValle.


Publication Info

  • New York : Spiegel & Grau, 2012.


  • 9780679604860 (electronic bk.); $48.00


  • 1 online resource; 412 p. (hardcover)

Additional Contributors


  • eAudio Book
  • Paperback
  • Hardcover
  • CD
  • Pre-loaded audio player


Horror; suspense/thriller


3Q, 2P


Following a scuffle with the police, Pepper finds himself locked up on a mental ward where the patients are prey for the devil.


When a big, blue-collar guy gets in a fight with three police officers, they find it more convenient to drop him off at a mental hospital for “evaluation” than to do the paperwork of booking him into jail. While being held for a 72-hour observation, Pepper just can’t hold his temper. A month later he comes to and realizes that he has been doped into submission and restrained. Even worse, a monster is on the loose, a monster with the body of a man but the head of a bison with matted fur, wide, snorting nostrils, and a black pit of a mouth. Patients are convinced he is the devil, and the staff knowingly allow him to roam and attack at will. Pepper convinces three other patients to go off their meds in order to gain the strength and clarity to mount an offensive. Surely this will turn out well?


I do not read horror because I’m a big scaredy-cat! So I was prepared to cringe my way through this book and have trouble sleeping. Was I ever surprised. The story did not scare me at all. I found the monster strange, but not nightmare-inducing (though if seen in reality he would probably be terrifying). The few horror scenes involving this devil were mitigated by the larger story of the ineptness and criminality of the system responsible for the care of these patients. Perhaps this is the real horror that LaValle wants to get across to readers. The book came across as more thriller/suspense than horror, and is psychologically disturbing.

The narration of the book is also different. The narrator frequently breaks out of the story and speaks directly to the reader in the vernacular. This has the effect of breaking the pacing and the tension and occasionally feeling like a lecture.


The Devil in Silver does serve as satirical commentary on the state of mental health care and of bureaucratic systems in general.


Visit the author’s website.

The author’s interview with NPR Books.



Publishers Weekly

The Washington Post

Appeal Factors

This book will appeal to readers who enjoy psychological suspense/thrillers. According to reviews, fans of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest will find familiar territory. It will appeal to some horror fans, but not perhaps those looking for a Chainsaw Massacre type of experience.


One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey. These books share dark humor and a story of mistreatment of mental patients through forced sedation and other abuses.

End of Watch, by Stephen King. Both novels are set in mental institutions where a “monster” torments the inhabitants.

The Dark Room, by Minette Walters. This book is also classified as psychological suspense, is disturbing, and involves a psychiatric hospital.

Booktalk Idea

A booktalk could describe Pepper’s first full encounter with the devil–the heat, the snorting and clopping, being poked. The talk should build the suspense slowly but inexorably.

Discussion Questions

Does Pepper actually have a mental illness? How would you classify his temper fits? Why did it not occur to him that the other patients may have needed their meds?

Why does the staff ignore the devil’s attacks on other patients and even seem to coddle the monster?

How is it that the hospital can get away with breaking the law and ignoring regulations regarding patient care? Do the news stories of real life incidents included by the author give you a new perspective on this?

In the book, the narrator sometimes breaks out of the story and speaks directly to the reader. How did this affect your reading of the book?

Why I chose this book

This book was a book group pick. It is a good choice to experiment with horror because it is not as terrifying as other horror stories.

Memory Hooks

Devil, monster, mental hospital


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